Showing posts from May, 2008

The New Yorker June 2 2008

from Paul Goldberger's article "Out of the Blocks" on Beijing's Olympic Green:

As in Paris--where the Louvre lines up with the Tuileries, the Arc de Triomphe, and the Champs-Elysees--Beijing's most symbolically important structures have fallen along the main axis. In the center is the former imperial residence of the Forbidden City. North of this is the Jingshan, a park surrounding an artificial hill where the last Ming Emperor is said to have hanged himself, and, beyond that, the Drum Tower and the Bell Tower, which for centuries helped Beijing's inhabitants tell the time. In 1958, when the Communists expanded Tiananmen Square, at the southern gate of the Forbidden City, they placed the Monument to the People's Heroes on the same axis, in the center of the square. Mao Zedong's mausoleum, also in the square, is on the axis, too. And now, spread over twenty-eight hundred acres at the opposite end of the axis, is Beijing's Olympic Green. If the Tiana…

Reading Boland's "The Liffey beyond Islandbridge"

from 23 Poems

A river runs through these two adolescent poems. In “Liffeytown,” a delicate lyric, each of the three stanzas ends with the haunting refrain:

O swan by swan my heart goes down
Through Dublin town, through Dublin town.

In “The Liffey beyond Islandbridge,” the river runs past town into a pastoral scene, with grass in place of iron, with swans preening, white abandoned sea birds, a cat among daffodils, an old man under a tree, all enveloped in “the shaken warmth of early March.” The speaker knows that even further down the river, beyond the river bend,

Are spaces teemed with cities which must
Strike a destiny

but prefers, for time’s being, to flow with the river’s “aimless miles.”

If the sense of literary destiny is strong, so, too, is the sense of the literary tradition. The word “wanders,” which appears in both poems, invokes both Wordsworth of the daffodils, and Yeats of the swans. Yeats’s influence also appears in the diction of ghostly enchantment in the first poem. Though the…

Poem in Podium

One part of "The Body" series has just been published in Podium, the online journal of 92nd Street Y. Nose, meet the world.

Reading Eavan Boland

I am reading her New Collected Poemsfor PFFA's NaPoReMo.

Front flap:
An Origin Like Water: Poems 1967-187 (1996) confirmed Eavan Boland's place at the forefront of contemporary poetry. New Collected Poems brings the record of her achievement up to date, adding material from her subsequent volumes and filling out key poems from the early years. Following the chronology of publication, the reader experiences the exhilarating sense of development, now incremental, now momentous. Boland's work traces a measured process of emancipation from conventions and stereotypes, writing in a space she has cleared not by violent rejection but by dialogue, critical engagement, and patient experimentation with form, theme, and language.

Back flap:
Eavan Boland, one of Ireland's formost poets, was born in Dublin and educated in London, New York, and Dublin. Her books of poetry include Against Love Poetry, The Lost Land, An Origin Like Water, and Outside History. Boland is also the author of

Chloe Miller @ Porta Del Sol

A friend, Chloe Yelena Miller, has just become the editor of Porta Del Sol. The web version offers reviews of online publications, and interviews with their editors. It even "grades' the publications using a five "suns" scale. Do get in touch with Chloe if you want your e-journal reviewed, or if you are after reviewing or interviewing work.

More Than More Like

You love me more than I love you.
That's why I feel so bad.
But if I love you more than you
love me, I would feel sad.

Between my guilt and misery
I'd rather be the first,
and learn to see much more of me,
more like what you observed.

The New Yorker May 12 2008

from Alex Ross's article "Song of the Earth" on composer John Luther Adams:

"My music is going inexorably from being about place to becoming place," Adams said of his installation. I have a vivid memory of flying out of Alaska early one morning on my way to Oberlin, where I ataught for a couple of fall semesters. It was aglorious early-fall day. Winter was coming in. I love winter, and I didn't want to go. As we crested the central peaks of the Alaska Range, I looked down at Mt. Hayes, and all at once I was overcome by the intense love that I have for this place--an almost erotic feeling about those mountains. Over the next fifteen minutes, I found myself furiously sketching, and when I came up for air I realized, There is is. I knew that I wanted to hear the unheard, that i wanted to somehow transpose the music that is just beyong the reach of our ears into audible vibrations. I knew that it had to be its own space. And I knew that it had to be real--that I…

TLS May 2008

from Andrew Porter's review of Harrison Birtwistle's "The Minotaur" at the Covent Garden:

The Minotaur, offspring of Pasiphae's surrender to penetration by a bull that may have been Poseidon himself--Euripides' "mingled form where two strange shapes combined, and different natures, man and bull, were joined"--is the protagonist of Birtwistle's new opera for Covent Garden.

Over a decade ago, Friedrich Durrenmatt's widow gave him an unrealized ballet scenario by her husband: the Minotaur, brooding in a labyrinth of mirrors, finally runs to embrace, but is killed by, a mirror-image of himself who proves to be Theseus in minotaur-disguise. (Half-brothers they were, if Poseidon indeed sired both; Ariadne and the Minoatur are half-sister-and-brother.) Murders and monsters have been recureent in Birtwistle's work; so have ritual repetitions; and so have labyrinths: intricate, extended sound structures, such as the Exody composed for the Chicago S…

The Importance of Being Earnest

"The Importance of Being Earnest," as performed by the Pearl Theater Company last night, was hugely entertaining. One reason for its success was that the production did not try to update Wilde (he was, I was convinced last night, of his time, and so offered a period, and a period of, satisfaction), or radicalize him, or analyze him, and so the play remained funny throughout its three acts.

The other reason was the strong ensemble acting, with the exception of Lady Bracknell played by Carol Schultz. Ali Ahn, as Cecily, delivered many of her lines with delicious timing, but also mashed many of her words in her rush to get them out. Rachel Botchan was Gwendolen with a spine, both in her character, and in her well trained, upper class carriage. Bradford Cover was convincing as the straight man, Jack. But the evening belonged to Sean McNall who played Algernon. As the Times review noted, he made the famous epigrams fresh, spoke them as if they were minted for the first time, in th…


Rob Mackenzie at Poetry-Free-For-All is inaugurating June as National Poetry Reading Month, and inviting everyone to join in. His instructions:

Well, NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month) gets more and more popular every year and it’s been a great idea. However, without readers, poems can’t do what they’re supposed to do i.e. be read.

1. Buy a new book, preferably before June, by a contemporary poet whose work you are not particularly familiar with. An anthology is also acceptable. You must buy the book. Poetry publishers need your money, especially the smaller ones.

2. Read the whole collection by the end of the month at least once. I know some people will laugh at this, as they will read several collections every month. But for others, this will be a new experience.

3. Each day, write a paragraph on a poem from the book. There’s no minimum or maximum length of paragraph. It could be a short sentence. But explain how you react to the poem and quote your favourite line (or a line …

The New Yorker April 21, 2008

Rushdie's novel Midnight's Chidren has a mysterious chapter titled "In the Sundarbans." The New Yorker article on that mangrove forest helped me make sense of the chapter's connection with Tiger, tides, kraits and widows.

From Caroline Alexander's "Tigerland":

At the mouth of the Ganges Delta, the Sundarbans encompasses the largest single mangrove ecosystem in the world, of which roughly forty per cent lies in India and sixty per cent in Bangladesh. . . . To the southeast lies the tiger reserve, whose swamp forest and intricate waterways are the improbable domain of the uniquely aquatic Royal Bengal tiger.


The boat arrived at the long jetty of the Saznekhali Wildlife Sanctuary. . . . The river was at very low tide, and a compound loomed above the river and fifteen feet of exposed mud banks like a fort bristling with defences, Stoutly staked at the high-tide mark, a quadruple row of bamboo pylons formed a palisade, patrolled by a tropp of rhesus monkey…

Discovering Hyam Plutzik

Thanks to Edward Moran, I just discovered Hyam Plutzik. Son of Russian Jewish immigrants, he became an English professor at the University of Rochester, and, though he died in 1962, a poet at large. His words quoted on his homepage immediately resonate with me:

I once looked at poetry as little more than beautiful language. Later it was a way of communicating the nuances of the world. More recently I have begun to look at poetry as the great synthesizer, the humanizer of knowledge.
The three ways of looking are not three different ways, but each rises into the next, as beauty becomes nuance, and nuance becomes synthesis. Or, to see the interrelationship from a different end, synthesis is valuable so long as it depends on nuance, and nuance must rest on an appreciation of beauty. The goal of synthesis echoes that of Hesse's The Glass Bead Game, in which the game is to unify all knowledge. Whereas Hesse's master-language is music, and his chosen form the quest novel, Plutzik'…

"Les Liaisons Dangereuses" by Roundabout Theatre Company

Rufus Norris directed this Christopher Hampton play based on the 1782 French epistolary novel by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos. Given its novelistic origin, the play was unsurprisingly tightly plotted. The dialogue was sharp, though at times it sounded too much like Wilde's English drawing room. Laura Linney played the chilling La Marquise de Merteuil, while Ben Daniels, as Le Vicomte de Valmont, was, perhaps, a too-sympathetic egotist. Jessica Collins was heartbreakingly convincing as La Presidente de Tourvel, whom Valmont seduces and abandons. The ensemble acting was without any weak link, the efficient set just sufficient to suggest luxurious decadence. We sat in the first row of the mezzanine in the American Airlines Theatre, and had an excellent view of the sexual machinations.

The Headhunter's all-purpose five-point scale: ****1/2

Germans in the Woods

Last night, at Cornelia, I met again Tim Rauch, an independent animator. He and his brother just completed their first animated documentary, Germans in the Woods. Based on a WWII veteran's story, the documentary short won 2nd prize at ASIFA-East (Animation Community for NY and the East Coast). It is making the rounds of film fests. In his blog, Tim writes about his current project, The Park Bench.

Will Morris read as the feature at Cornelia last night. I've heard him read three times now, and his poetry, inspired by British Revivalists, postmodernism, and language poetry, is still as entertaining as ever. The incantatory repetitions, the technological imagery, and the social criticism remind me of the other English poet in the NYC poetry circuit, Jane Ormerod. Jane hails from the U of East Anglia writing program. I wonder if Will comes from the same fenlands.

Bann at Worldwide Plaza

Two and a half years old, Bann prides itself on its so-called progressive Korean cuisine. Like its website, the restaurant is self-consciously chic, but the smiling and helpful servers soften the edges of the hard trendiness. It does not hurt that the men, Asian and Caucasian, are young and good-looking, a lure for the neighborhood, perhaps, though the clientele was mostly straight and corporate both times I was there.

The slightly hidden entrances leads into a sleek lounge area, watered by a hand crafted copper bar. Further in, the dining area is lit warmly. Yesterday, the evening light floated in through the tall windows. The tables are solid dark wood. The privacy curtains separating the tables are curiously flimsy.

Immaculate Buns gave our server detailed instructions on how he liked his martini. He told us a funny story about his visit to his dermatologist, and thus his name. He liked the place, as The Quarterback had suspected. The winelist, printed on a hand-sewn scroll, is exten…

God Cock

God Cock, I've gone astray.
For months I ain't got any.
Give me a prick every spring day,
or two, or three, or many.

Marina Tsvetaeva's "Selected Poems"

I'm reading Elaine Feinstein's translation of the poems. Tsvetaeva's voice is intensely lyrical, passionate and bitter. It can be satirical, against the rich and the newspapers readers on the Parisian Metro, but its dominant tones are abasement--towards poets she revered--and recrimination--against unfaithful lovers. So far I prefer the shorter lyrics to the sequences. "As people listen intently" makes me smell my hearing, and and crave my remembering.

As people listening intently
xxx(a river's mouth to its source)
that's how they smell a flower
to the depths, till they lose all sense.

That's how they feel their deepest
xxxcraving in dark air,
as children lying in blue sheets
peer into memory.

And that's how a young boy feels
when his blood begins to change.
xxxWhen people fall in love with love
they fling themselves in the abyss.

Preparing to Teach Poetic Forms

Nine more days before the start of my New York Writers Workshop class, and I have four sign-ups. The class needs six to run, so I'm casting around for ways to make the numbers. I've sent out pest emails, posted on craigslist, blanketed Cornelia Street Cafe with homemade flyers for three Fridays, recruited friends to spread the word, and left a flyer with the neighborhood falafel shop.

Preparing for the first class on sonnets, I remembered Molly Peacock's lovely poem about the shoulders of women, a sonnet as it turned out. I read it first in Raw Heaven, and liked it still more when I read it again in her Cornucopia: New and selected poems.

The Shoulders of Women

The shoulders of women are shallow, narrow,
and thin compared to the shoulders of men,
surprisingly thin, like the young pharaohs
whose shoulders in stick figures are written
on stones, or bony as the short gold wings
of cranes on oriental screens. Lord, how
surprising to embrace the shortened stirrings
of many bones in their…

Marie Howe's "The Kingdom of Ordinary Time"

You have to read this. Yesterday, in Central Park, I finished reading it in one sitting, pausing now and then, to look up, to see how the world had changed. "Unsparing" was the first word that came to mind. Then, "religious." Not "spiritual" which sounds so wishy-washy to my ears, but "religious." The final, but not the last, word was "love."

The Quarterback is thinking of buying all three of her books for his mother. They would make a beautiful present for Mother's Day.

Reading at the 92nd Street Y

Tonight was the reading by students in the spring writing program. I was the last student reader, out of twelve readers. Marie Ponsot, and classmate Kevin Sullivan were there, as well as Wise Woman and The Quarterback. I read five parts from "The Book of the Body," and felt the audience was with me throughout the reading. I was especially moved when Wise Woman looked as if she was about to weep or laugh. Christina Curtis, from Daphne Merkin's Non-Fiction Workshop, read a wonderful piece on her job attending to a salad bar in a West Coast restaurant; the essay served up a woman's method for surviving grief.

The Delta Grill in Hell's Kitchen

This Louisiana-inspired restaurant cultivates a festive atmosphere in a southern-styled setting. It reminded me of New Orleans eating. The Quarterback and I shared the fried green tomatoes. The waiter told us beforehand that they only had red tomatoes tonight. When it came, we tucked in and enjoyed the hot, spicy dish. The Quarterback had jamabalaya in a pot. It was very flavorful, and came with andouille sausage and chicken in a crispy batter. My shrimp etouffee was rather bland. The wine list was very ordinary. The Quarterback had an Australian shiraz, and I had an okay German riesling.

The Headhunter's all-purpose 5-point scale:
Food-- * * *
Value-- * *
Service-- * * *
Atmosphere-- * * * 1/2

Sunday Brunch at Florent

I liked the self-deprecating self-description on the website of this "New York instutiton," even before visiting the restaurant. Enticingly described as a grease spoon, it has seen the neighborhood, the meatpacking district, posh up its act, but, unperturbed, it continues to serve its eclectic clientele its good diner fare. It is closing soon, however, giving me another reason to visit it before it goes the way of all good things. I had a portabello mushroom and goat cheese wrap. The mushroom came in chunks, and the cheese in a generous helping. The Quarterback had the special sandwich: blackened swordfish. It was rather small, as sandwiches and burgers go in this country, but it was delicious. I tasted the warm chocolate cake too. Its center was liquid chocolate, though that afternoon's version was not liquidy enough. Reservation is advisable because it gets very crowded.

The Headhunter's all-purpose 5-point scale:
Food-- * * * *
Value-- * * * *
Service-- * * *

Omai: Vietnamese restaurant in Chelsea

The Quarterback brought me to this restaurant for dinner. For appetizer, we had the calamari which was very tender, juicy, and spicer than first taste might suggest. It also tasted strongly of mint. The Quarterback had chicken, vegetable and rice in claypot. The vegetable was bak choy. The food was clear, not overly sauced. My roasted duck tasted nicely of smoke too. The ginger orange sauce was tasty and, thankfully, not overpowering or thick. We had a glass of merlot and a glass of pinot noir. Neither wine was anything special. The meal came up to about $60. Not cheap.

The Headhunter's all-purpose 5-point scale:
Food-- * * * 1/2
Value-- *
Service-- * * *
Atmosphere-- * * * *

Bathers at MOMA

Paul Cézanne. (French, 1839-1906). The Bather. c. 1885. Oil on canvas, 50 x 38 1/8" (127 x 96.8 cm). Lillie P. Bliss Collection

Henri Matisse. (French, 1869-1954). Bather. Cavalière, summer 1909. Oil on canvas, 36 1/2 x 29 1/8" (92.7 x 74 cm). Gift of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller. © 2008 Succession H. Matisse, Paris / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Pablo Picasso. (Spanish, 1881-1973). Bather. winter 1908-09.Oil on canvas, 51 1/8 x 38 1/8" (129.8 x 96.8 cm). Louise Reinhardt Smith Bequest. © 2008 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The Cezanne bather is a statue, the Matisse a bear, the Picasso a dancer.

Poussin and Nature: Arcadian Visions

Nicolas Poussin (French, 1594–1666) inspired many painters I admire: Corot, Cezanne, Matisse. When I looked at his paintings at the Met this afternoon, I found myself hunting for signs of these other men, the most obvious of which was his almost-geometric mountains.

The paradise he painted was often marked by death and pain. The Arcadian Shepherds, otherwise known as Et in Acadia Ego, stumble on a tomb.

Their postures portray dynamically the turning of their bodies towards this unexpected discovery. The green cloak of the river god recalls his watery abode streaming away down the slope, a movement enhanced by the water pouring out of his jar. The figures grow older when seen from left to right, the golden hair of the shepherdess turning into the barren crown of the seated or fallen river god.

In other visions of Arcadia, a snake kills a man; Thisbe discovers Pyramus dead while the lion mauls a horse and his rider in an approaching storm; Eve points out the fruit to Adam. In a marvelous a…

Poems of Paul Celan

Just as I feared, the further I read into the volume, selected and translated by Michael Hamburger, the less I like the poems. The lyrical richness of the first two books seems to dry up into obsession repetitions in the third.

My favorite in Mohn und Gedachtnis, or Poppy and Remembrance, (1952) is the heartbreaking "Your hand full of hours."

Your hand full of hours, you came to me--and I said:
Your hair is not brown.
So you lifted it lightly on to the scales of grief; it weighed more than I . . .

On ships they come to you and make it their cargo, then put it on sale in the markets of lust--
You smile at me from the depth, I weep at you from the scale that stays light.
I weep: Your hair is not brown, they offer brine from the sea and you give them curls . . .
You whisper: They're filling the world with me now, in your heart Im a hollow way still!
You say: Lay the leafage of years beside you--it's time you came closer and kissed me!

The leafage of years is brown, your hair is …